Queen Mary Journal of Intellectual Property

Time-shifted morality: a critique of the legal discourse on online copyright infringement

Tito Rendas * *

Keywords: intellectual property, copyright, online copyright infringement, file sharing, Internet law, morality, legal rhetoric


The article critically examines the discourse against the widespread practice of unauthorized sharing of copyrighted content on the Internet. Legal discourse condemning this behaviour and trying to persuade Internet users of its moral unacceptability relies on a rhetoric that lacks resonance and credibility: the ‘download as theft’ rhetoric. It is argued that this reliance is explained by an indifference to the fact that the deeply embedded norm against theft that we hold is maladaptive in the contemporary technological predicament. To explicate this, the article uses the concept of ‘time-shifted morality’. The article's hope is to serve as a stimulus for scholars and legal decision-makers to reconsider the rhetoric used in writing and arguing about online copyright infringement.

Author Notes

I would like to thank Gonçalo de Almeida Ribeiro, the anonymous reviewers and the participants at the 9th Cornell Law School Inter-University Graduate Student Conference, at the ‘Law in a Changing Transnational World’ workshop at the Tel Aviv University, Faculty of Law, at the 2013 Doctoral Scholarship Conference at Yale Law School, and at the Mateus DOC VI organized by Instituto Internacional Casa de Mateus, for their helpful comments and suggestions. All errors are my own. I am very grateful to Títulos Lusitanos, Serviços Financeiros, S.A. and Fundação Luso-Americana para o Desenvolvimento for financial support.

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